Marty Zimmerman relies on faith in aftermath of stroke

Marty Zimmerman III may use a cane to get around today, but he has come a long way since a March 2013 stroke.

Seeking to know why is not something Marty Zimmerman III is dwelling on.  He is letting his faith carry him through a difficult year. So is his family.

Zimmerman, 26, was stricken with a hemorrhagic stroke last March 7 when he was just 25 years old. It was caused by an ateriovenous malformation (AVM), considered congenital.

It is unknown why an abnormal connection forms between arteries and veins during fetal development, according to, but the condition hits males more than females. The AVM can be anywhere in the body, but tends to occur in the spine or brain. It was the latter for Zimmerman. And he had no warning symptoms, such as a headache or seizure.

The stroke

At 7:30 that Thursday morning, he collapsed getting out of bed. His left arm and leg were numb.

“My nightmare began,” he said.

He managed to call his dad, H. Martin Zimmerman Jr., on the cell phone. What some termed a coincidence, others would label a miracle, as Zimmerman later discovered on his phone record that he missed the ‘7’ in the prefix, but the call still went through.

His father and soon his mother, Marcie Zimmerman, arrived at his apartment above the Zimmerman funeral home complex. They called 911. He was life-flighted from the Rescue Hose Company station to Penn State Hershey Medical Center, and the crew prayed for him during the helicopter flight. They didn’t think he would make it.

By 10 a.m. Zimmerman was in surgery with a specialist. The physician performed a craniotomy, removing a bone flap to access the leak in his artery. He has no memory of that week in the hospital, but came out of it with a misshapen head. He would have to deal with that for a while.

The journey back

He moved to the Hershey Rehabilitation Hospital for six weeks, undergoing occupational and physical therapy. His speech and memory were not affected by the stroke. Upon discharge, he moved back in with his parents.

Zimmerman already relied on his faith for the tough days.

“The fact that I didn’t perish means I still have work to do in this life, in this world,” he said.

Still, fear and doubt surfaced when he felt overwhelmed by the recovery process. His mobility was limited to a wheelchair for four months. The bone flap was put back in place on June 10, and Zimmerman went into that surgery at ease. But by early August it was clear the surrounding bone was rejecting his skull and he got angry. So many people had been praying for him, and this seemed to indicate God was not answering them. He read the Bible more intently.

On Nov. 11 a physician placed a plastic implant in his head. The procedure was successful.

“I feel like myself again,” he said. “I sound like me. I look like me.”

Giving thanks

He has advanced to a cane for walking, and has been out in the community, striving for more independence. He spoke about the experience to his home church, Greencastle Baptist. He offered prayer at Greencastle Borough Council and a school board meeting. He shared his story Jan. 26 at Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Zimmerman’s employers at Kline’s Grocery, Barry and Bonnie Kline, and Terry Kline, are holding his deli clerk job open, and used him over the holidays to take phone orders.

He is appreciative of his family’s support.

“They have been extremely attentive. This has challenged all of us in our faith. We don’t ask why, but what can we do to overcome this?”

By Easter they were able to start laughing together, he said, especially noticeable with his siblings, Evan and Hannah, who weren’t impressed with hospital food.

Zimmerman Jr. said the experience showed, “Life can change very quickly. I’m thankful for all the medical profession could do.”

Grandmother Jean Zimmerman struggled to find the right words. “You want to say ‘Why?’ but believe the Lord has a purpose.”

The future

Zimmerman is continuing with his life plans. The 2006 graduate of Greencastle-Antrim High School earned a B.A. in History with a concentration in Public History from Messiah College, and is working on a master’s degree in Applied History at Shippensburg University. He received an A in his latest class.  He continues on the board of directors at Allison-Antrim Museum, and would like a career in the museum field and writing.

He is grateful for everyone’s prayers during his five surgeries and recuperation.

“This has forever transformed my understanding of God, faith and the power of prayer,” he said. “I can still give God glory. He is who he was before my stroke and he remains the same. I count my blessings.”